Congressional Democrats moved forward with budget resolutions in both Houses of Congress yesterday, a necessary first step to the budget reconciliation process that would allow them to pass Joe Biden‘s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package without any Republican support.
Democrats are in control of both houses of Congress and the presidency and it sure looks like they’re willing to use that power to get families their desperately needed money. On Tuesday, they voted to move forward with budget reconciliation and are beginning the process for a second vote that could get a stimulus package finalized by February 16 and passed in a matter of weeks — rather than waiting over a month for the Republicans to vote on the plan. Here’s what to know about when we are going to get those checks.
Early Republican Resistance Might Have Been A Smokescreen
Now-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously said that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” With Obama’s vice president now sitting behind the Resolute desk, Republicans’ primary goal is, yet again, to frustrate the president’s goals in an effort to retake power. McConnell has suggested that it will take a month to a month and a half to pass the stimulus checks and package because of the upcoming impeachment trial. That could mean that checks won’t go out until March or April. But, it’s beginning to look like those suggestions was all a mirage — and that McConnell actually has very little recourse to stop Democrats from doing exactly what they want.
Biden Still Wants To Be Bipartisan
President Biden has expressed more than once that he would like to work with the GOP to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package. Unfortunately for him, some very good parts of Biden’s plan are simply anathema to the GOP. That means there’s just not much room to negotiate without capitulating on major and necessary parts of the package.
But despite the fact that it’s probably a waste of time, Biden met yesterday with ten GOP senators about their much smaller $618 billion plan. Among the measures it removes from Biden’s plan are an increase to the federal minimum wage and $350 billion in aid to state and local governments to help them pay the salaries of public employees like police officers, teachers, and healthcare workers.
The stimulus under the Republican plan would also be much less generous. It would provide smaller payments—$1,000 instead of $1,400, already a steep cut from his promise to send out $2,000 checks—to fewer people. Only individuals who made $50,000 or less and couples that made $100,000 or less would be eligible for payments. Biden’s plan keeps the limits from previous economic relief payments: full payments for incomes up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples filing together, with prorated amounts sent to filers with incomes up to $99,000 and $198,000, respectively.
However, Biden has stated time and time again that the only danger in COVID stimulus is not passing enough of it. “We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much, the risk is not doing enough,” Biden said on Friday. So smaller plans are probably dead on arrival. It looks a lot like Biden is willing to negotiate with Republicans insofar as they want what he wants — and that the Senate Democrats know they have the power to pass a big package if need be.
Impeachment Could Slow Things Down
Former President Trump’s impeachment trial is slated to begin next week, shifting the attention of the Senate and the media from COVID-19 to a trial whose outcome was all but determined when just five GOP senators voted to allow Trump’s impeachment trial to proceed in the Senate.
We already know what the outcome, barring an absolutely stunning turn of events, will be. Seventeen Republican senators would need to vote to convict the president. Just five voted to even allow the trial to continue in the Senate. Twelve would have to vote that the trial is unconstitutional and that Trump is guilty of the charge against him. It’s simply not going to happen, but it is going to be a distraction.
But The Democrats Are Probably Going To Pass The Bill Anyway
President Joe Biden did entertain the Republicans filing a counter-proposal stimulus plan in a meeting with the GOP, but it appears that regardless of whether or not he gets behind their plans to pass the much-smaller stimulus, Senate Democrats are going to move forward with their $1.9 trillion stimulus package that includes $1,400 checks.
That’s because the bill could quickly be passed through Senate budget reconciliation with just 50 votes, regardless of GOP support. President Biden appears to be exhausting all other options first as the Democrats move forward, introducing the budget resolution in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday, which passed.
The next step will be another vote on Thursday to fully go ahead on budget reconciliation. That process means the bill could be passed without a filibuster and or a supermajority, which basically means that Democrats could pass the budget bill even if every single Republican voted no.
It does mean that they can’t pass a bigger package — the $1.9 trillion package would basically be passed as is. But they have far fewer people to negotiate with, and it’s a tool Republicans have used in the past, so it’s really not unheard of, no matter the partisan bickering.
“We are hopeful that Republicans will work in a bipartisan manner to support assistance for their communities, but the American people cannot afford any more delays and the Congress must act to prevent more needless suffering,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
If the vote on Thursday goes well, the budget committees would have until February 16 to get their package together, which would then be put up to a vote in the House and Senate. In that case, the payments, government funding, vaccine infrastructure, and more could start going out in late February or early March — far earlier than April, as McConnell had suggested.